Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Year of the Snake

As a young child I vividly remember being lucky enough to attend a Lunar New Year celebration in our city's Chinatown with my Aunt and Uncle. I was completely mesmerized by the colorful sites, sounds, exotic food and especially the giant dragon being paraded down the narrow street, although I later discovered it had traumatized some of my other young relatives.
I was certain I had been transported to some magical fanciful place when I was, in actuality, a mere 40 minute drive from my suburban home.
Of course, as a six year old, I felt this celebration was infinitely superior to the "western" New Year's Eve, which involved banging some pots and pans at 8:00 and sleeping through a party I was too young to stay awake for.
Although many New Year's have since come and gone, I still look forward honoring this festive celebration, even if just on a small scale, with fun food and some easy to craft asian inspired decor.

Pagoda Orange Blossom Cake

This year marks the year of the snake and since that might not be the most appealing subject to focus on while planning treats for your menu, I thought I'd include some other less reptilian good luck elements in this fun asian inspired dessert.
Although this very unauthentic confection doesn't use traditional Chinese ingredients, the orange flavor, popcorn flowers and pagoda are all in keeping with the symbols of prosperity. Orange hued fruits, sweets and candy, flowers and the color red are all thought to bring luck and good fortune in the coming year and who couldn't use a little of that. 

You'll Need:
Orange flavored layer cake 
Orange tinted icing
Red Licorice-
*you will need a pack of both the traditional (these have an opening in the middle) and either the shoelace or peel apart variety 
meltable white or pink chocolate
sprinkles- red, orange or gold
thin coat hanger or craft wire
wire cutters
Despite an arsenal of cake decorationg supplies in my pantry, my work with icing is marginal at best. I have yet to produce an attractive looking icing rose. So for this I thought I'd eschew traditional frosting flowers for the much more forgiving chocolate coated popcorn and fruit roll up stems.
Bake and frost cake with desired flavor and color. Duncan helped me out and I used orange juice in place of the water called for in the recipe for added flavor.
before - looking quite orange
cut wire into 3 strips (2 equal size- one longer)
 roll peel apart or shoestring licorice (I doubled it up so as not to be too thin)
twirl both ends of thin licorice and press into shape, squeezing firmly. It should remain this way. 
insert wires with licorice into cake, adjusting to leave exposed section of wire at the top for roof
 Carefully slide rolled licorice onto wire

 Continue adding strips of licorice and curly roof as desired building up height.
 This is a fairly simple design.
*remove wire and licorice and discard before serving- no one wants a trip to the dentist*

dip popcorn in melted chocolate (ideally I would have used pink but my craft store must have had a Valentine's rush so I improvised with white and colored with pink sprinkles)
Cut green fruit roll up into strips and arrange on cake for branches
 arrange popcorn cherry blossoms as you like
I melted 3 Blue Rasberry Jolly Ranchers on a foil lined cookie tray (about 4-5 minutes @ 350 but will vary) Once cooled, I peeled it off and placed over hole in Bundt cake as a pond
A Fun conversation starter- guess your guests' signs

Floating Water Lanterns

Last Thanksgiving our neighborhood released sky lanterns as part of a fundraiser for our local food bank- it was an amazing experience watching the paper lantern disappear into the sky powered by a small flame. As my craft skills don't extend to creating anything airborne, aside from the odd paper airplane, I thought I would create a mini version of another lovely idea for this occasion: water lanterns. 

You'll Need:
plastic cups - I bought transparent red
decorative scrapbook paper (lightweight), tracing paper, or printed out patterns of your choice
flameless votive candles
container with water
pebbles or sea glass

This and many other delightful photos and facts about Chinese New year traditions: click here 

These lovely patterns were from Dover Publishing.
Trim base off of plastic cups leaving a rim of about 3/4 inch- be careful the edges can be sharp
Cut paper to desired size and fold into rectangles or roll into cylinders, taping to secure. Trimming patterned paper into lotus shape makes a nice design.
 Decorate as desired with patterned paper or pens or colored pencils
Place paper lanterns into cups (I didn't need tape or glue) and pop a flameless votive into center. They should float without difficulty

I added a name and border to this lantern (made from folded tracing paper) using a red sharpie and placed it in a gold rimmed champagne glass filled with water for a unique place setting
 Since weather didn't permit launching these down a winding river - I tried a few options inside
I added sea glass, pebbles and water to a clear dish and perched on a cake stand to create a makeshift lake
or you can float them in a trifle bowl
Try several different options and as they don't need very deep water to float, shallow serving trays will work too

Easy Paper Lanterns
Since lanterns are such a wonderful way to enhance the decor and lighting in your celebration, in addition to the floating lanterns, why not display a few of these traditional accents. These are simply the classic grade school craft version, updating the construction paper to more elegant scrapbook or printed wrapping paper.

You'll Need:
assorted scrapbook or sturdy wrapping paper featuring Chinese inspired designs
glue or tape
tassels, beads, ribbons or odds and ends (optional)
flameless votives

Fold paper (any size rectangle will do) and make even parallel cuts part way through from folded side, leaving an uncut border at top.

  Unfold, roll into cylinder and tape closed.

Decorate, add ribbon or paper handle and tape a flameless votive inside if desired (these are fun as just decorative without the light accents as well)
I trimmed small strips off the paper before making the lanterns to save to use for extra decorative borders and accents- mixing up the patterns a bit
Hang or display for instant ambiance!
Folding Screen

I saw these mini mirrors in my local Dollar Store and figured their asian inspired design would be perfect decor for a Chinese New Year, and of course the price was right! I've seen inexpensive mirrors and frames glued together countless ways, repurposed into lanterns or placed in groups to create multi-paneled larger pieces, but for this occasion I thought I'd try to create a tabletop screen.
 Black is considered unlucky for New Years in China so using a gold paint pen I doodled some Chinese inspired pattern to brighten up the finish but painting them a solid red or gold would be a great option as well.

 The only tricky part was figuring out which way to tape the panels together so they folded correctly.
I first propped them up with a small piece of tape holding them together until they were positioned correctly and then secured more firmly with larger strip of tape
My first attempt using electrical tape didn't stick- so I picked up Gorilla Tape under advice from a helpful man in the home improvement store. If the less than attractive back will be visible, you can cover with decorative paper to hide any "oopses".
Display anywhere it will nicely reflect light- I tried it on our hand me down Asian inspired coffee table 
or with my Buddha from Target

PennyWise Quick Tips:

* I got many of the party and decor supplies shown at the dollar store- but don't forget to visit the toy section for ideas- I found this toy snake perfect for the theme- and they had him in red!

*Redress other holiday items to fit your theme. These flameless candles were on my mantel for Christmas covered with birch scrapbook paper simply taped into place (lots of tutorials online)
With a quick wardrobe change- they're now perfect for this setting.

Wishing all of our readers Good Luck, Success and Happiness in the New Year!


  1. Everything looks excellent.
    Happy New Year to you and your family.

  2. Christina, these Chinese New Year ideas are super fun. And your paper lanterns have given me a great idea to use at a baby shower I am giving for my sister's first grandbaby next weekend. Thank you!!

    1. Thanks so much and congrats to your sister!

  3. Thanks for all the inspiration, Christina! Love the lanterns. Happy Pink Saturday!! ~Lorraine ♥♥♥

    1. Thanks so much - and Thanks for hosting pink Saturdays!

  4. Happy Chinese New Year!

    Please come and peek at my PINK.
    Your comment is always a joy to read.

    1. Thanks and happy new Year- I'd love to visit your site!

  5. Thanks so much for sharing this inspirational post at Simple & Sweet Fridays. What wonderful ideas for the Chinese New Year. Looks fantastic! Have a wonderful week!


    1. Thanks Jody! I always look forward to your Simple and Sweet Fridays!

  6. Hi, Christina! I'm now following you, my Dear, and what a lovely blog you have!! I meant to tell you, My kitties are all Persians...Leo and Tallulah are "silver" and Cyrus is "gold" ~ though he looks "long-haired-brown-tabby" to me!
    Have a wonderful evening!

    1. Thanks Anne!
      Loved your valentine post and your cats are beautiful- love the names- ! One looked a bit like our "Angel" but as she is a stray (she showed up at our door and moved in) her pedigree is a mystery :)


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